Chief Marketing Officer
Business––regardless of industry––is built on relationships.
Passing out business cards, meeting for coffee, setting up meetings and making phone calls are all integral parts of any company’s growth.
But no sustainable business can attribute their success to handing out business cards and making cold calls. These actions are just the start.
Long-lasting business relationships are built on something more than just a transaction. They’re rooted in partnerships, understanding what the other person needs, and developing mutually beneficial connections that move both parties closer to achieving their goals.
And they take time.
Long-lasting business relationships are just like any other relationship in your life. While certain connections might come and go, the ones that stick around are the ones you invest your time into.
But how do you invest in business relationships? Let’s explore.
1. Know where to network.
While there are dozens of ways to network these days, nothing beats face-to-face interaction.
Networking events, like conferences or local meetups, are still one of the best ways to make connections and build business relationships.
But finding the right events is crucial for building connections that are long-lasting.
Attending just about any event that rolls into your town is a great way to get the word out about your business, but if you’re not connecting with the right audience members, you’re wasting your time.
Rather than trying to attend as many conferences or meetups as possible, be selective. Choose networking events that appeal to your unique niche or industry. Research who will be attending each event beforehand to have an idea of whether or not you’ll be meeting with the right people.
Here’s a bit more on how you can do conference research and how to make the most of your conference experience:
Pro-tip: Use your audience personas to target the right networking events.
Your audience personas should tell you the types of customers you’re trying to reach (and if you don’t have audience personas made, check out our how-to guide here). This makes it the perfect tool to better understand what kind of networking events you should be attending.
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The most obvious take away from your personas is job titles, professions, or industries of the customers you’re trying to reach.
But be sure to look for less obvious insights as well, such as personal beliefs, family lives, or age group and income level.
These all can come into play in the kinds of events your audience might be attending. For example, if your persona is a small business owner in your local area, you’d have a better shot catching them at a meetup in your city than a large conference a few states away.
2. Leave the pitch at home.
You’ve encountered them before––the people who launch into exactly what they’re selling as soon as you meet them.
They’re positive their products or services will change your life, even though they haven’t listened to what problems you’re actually facing.
You don’t want to be that person.
While a solid elevator pitch is always great to have in your back pocket, know when to use it and when to hold off. And when it comes to networking events, it’s almost always better to leave it in your back pocket.
When looking to build long-term relationships with prospects or partners using strong communication skills, you don’t want to immediately turn them off by trying to convert them into a customer––especially before you even know how you can best serve them.
Pro-tip: Have a non-pitch introduction ready to go.
Sometimes you fall into an elevator pitch because it’s comfortable and familiar. You feel confident talking about what products or services you offer, so you jump straight to the thing you know.
To prevent on-the-spot introductions from taking that turn when building relationships, practice a less sales-y introduction.
Feel free to share your job title, the company you work for, and a brief overview of the products or services you offer––but leave the professional details at that. Only dive into your elevator pitch if the person you’re speaking with asks for more information.
Instead, use your first impression as an opportunity to get to know the person you’re connecting to. Ask questions about who they are, what they do, the company they work for or the brands they often engage with.
Here are some ice-breakers to get you started:
- What is your favorite part of the company you work for?
- What is the best part of your job?
- What brand do you enjoy engaging with the most?
- What has been the most interesting conversation you’ve had today?
- What was your favorite part of the keynote/speaker?
- What are your top three career highlights?
- What is an app/tool you can’t go a day without using?
Putting time into asking questions can help you better understand your audience. When the time does come (if it does come) to pitch your services, you can give a more customized angle and make a stronger connection.
3. Don’t just target potential customers.
A lot of the time, we think about marketing as a means of connecting with new customers. While it’s great for that, just viewing networking opportunities as a lead generation tactic could be holding you back from building business relationships.
Building a successful business or supporting a business’s growth comes down to who you know. If you’re limiting who you get to know to just people who might want to buy from you, you’re also limiting your growth.
Business relationships should come in many different forms:
- Long-term customers who become brand advocates
- Partnerships with other companies
- Support systems from business in entirely different industries
Having different kinds of business relationships can help you grow faster.
Think of it this way.
Let’s say another company connects with a client and realizes it’s not the right fit. The brand doesn’t have the right products or services and the client isn’t getting what they’re looking for. But you do have the right products or services.
If you have a strong relationship with someone on that other company’s team, they might refer that customer to you. That’s a new business opportunity delivered right to you––without having to spend money on advertising or marketing.
4. Learn to network online.
In-person events are awesome. Getting to connect with others face-to-face can make it easier to make a strong first impression and can lead to solid long-term business relationships.
But it takes a lot of money, time, and energy to even get to a networking event in the first place––especially if you don’t live in a major city. Not to mention, you’re at the mercy of someone else planning an event that fits your needs.
Thankfully, you don’t need in-person events to build a solid network. A lot can be done online.
Facebook groups, LinkedIn groups, Twitter, and even Reddit can all be great platforms for finding like-minded individuals and potential clients. You can also build business relationships through online communities unique to your industry or audience.
Find online networks the same way you would discover in-person events. Take a look at your buyer personas and identify what kinds of groups or communities they might be a part of.
These might be related to their job duties or responsibilities, or what they’re interested in learning.
For example, if you’re trying to target marketing managers, you might find some strong prospects in groups discussing digital advertising strategies or SEO, like the group Digital Marketing: Social Media, Search, Mobile & More on LinkedIn.
With over half a million members, popular groups like these can give you access to a network larger than even the biggest conferences and events.
Pro-tip: Focus on genuine conversations––not mass inboxing.
Anyone on LinkedIn has gotten that copied-and-pasted message you just know has been sent to dozens of people before you.
Or you’ve gotten the bot-generated message from new Twitter followers asking to check out their latest ebook or sign up for their newsletter.
While this tactic might get you a few leads, they’re usually not long-lasting. And because you didn’t put in the effort to build a relationship before expecting them to convert, they won’t think twice about never interacting with you again.
Instead of treating social media like a never-ending opportunity to send cold messages, recognize it as a chance to engage in real conversations, learn something new––and make a few solid connections along the way.
Look for areas where you can provide something of value to the conversation. Reply to others asking questions, giving tips, or sharing their opinions. Once you begin to create a dialogue with someone, send them a direct message looking to connect.
By building rapport first through community-based conversations, you’ll have a stronger chance of turning those interactions into solid connections.
However, once you connect with some leads, don’t abandon the group. Stay a part of the conversation, continuing to reply to questions and other perspectives.
5. Keep contact information organized with a CRM.
Have you ever pulled a business card out of a random pocket of your work bag or a jacket you only wear to conferences and wondered, who is this person?
We’ve all been there.
You have a great conversation with someone at a networking event or on the train into work in the morning, take down their information, and then as soon as the next keynote speaker begins talking or you reach your stop, that person has completely left your mind.
Or you throw their business card into a stack of other business cards and follow up with a generic message about how great it was to meet them.
Neither one of these is conducive to a long-term business relationship.
Keeping your information in a CRM (preferably Copper!) can help you stay organized and prevent you from forgetting where a business card came from.
With Copper, once you add in some basic details about the person you connected with, we’ll pull in additional details like their website and social handles. Plus, you can add in any notes to help you remember special details about them.
Then, when you go to email them, all the info is right there for you with our Gmail extension, so you can send a more personalized email with context.
Your CRM also provides an opportunity to keep notes, descriptions, or other details about your interactions that you can use for more personalized outreach at a later date.
Pro-tip: Use a mobile-friendly CRM for logging info on the go.
If you’re at an event, connecting with people on your commute or otherwise away from your computer, it can be hard to keep your details straight.
To prevent you from asking wait, which person was this? when you finally get a chance to log contact info into your CRM, use a mobile-friendly tool, like Copper.
Copper makes it easy to log activities, events, notes, and more on the go. As soon as you walk away from the conversation, add them as a contact in your CRM or update their record with notes about the interaction.
6. Be the one to reach out.
Sometimes connecting with someone in the business world can feel a lot like dating in a rom-com.
You meet, feel like you’re hitting it off, and exchange numbers. They promise to give you a call, but days later, you’re still sitting by the phone wondering if they really meant what they said.
Days turn to weeks and you never hear anything and you’re left speculating why. The truth is that people get busy. They lose numbers or forget the promises they made.
But you can avoid all those complications by being the one to reach out first.
After connecting with someone, just send them a quick check-in reminding them who you are, where you met, and maybe bringing up a couple of points you talked about. This is especially important if you met at a busy event where they might have chatted with dozens of people.
Sending that initial message shows connecting with them was important to you, and that you’re serious about moving forward.
Make sure you remember to reach out by setting a reminder for yourself. In Copper, you can do this by setting up a task.
Treat the task of following up like another item on your to do list. Remember to give it a due date––maybe a few days in advance if you’re attending a days-long conference. Give your new connection some time to settle back into the office!
Pro-tip: Use message templates to make catching up easy.
While you want to avoid your follow up messages sounding generic, templates make it easy to reach out when you’re in a rush. Having a follow-up template to send a new connection can ensure no one slips through the cracks.
Copper’s email templates allow you to automatically generate personalized messages, so you don’t have to lose personalization by sending follow-ups en mass.
Create different templates for different events. For example, if you’re going to be attending South by SouthWest, you could generate a follow-up template specifically for the people you meet at that conference.
However, templates can only auto-generate so much information. You’ll still need to manually enter more personal details to make your messages truly personalized.
In the example above, we’ve added a filler section where you can go through and include a line about something you want to catch up on.
This is where having strong notes about your interactions comes in handy. The more specific you can get about the conversations you had, the stronger your messages will be.
7. Focus on what you can give them––not what they can give you.
There are a lot of reasons why you might want to build new business relationships or improve upon the ones you already have.
And while the root of those reasons might be to grow your business, your main goal of building business relationships shouldn’t be to make money.
Think about what you can provide your new connections beyond just what you offer in products or services. Get to know what challenges they’re dealing with, what they’re looking for, and use your network to help them find what they’re after.
Remember when we mentioned earlier how connections can introduce you to new business?
You can––and should––do the same.
Rather than just waiting for the right time to give your connections your sales pitch, listen to what they need––not what you think they need. Sometimes what they need won’t align with what you can provide, and that’s okay.
But the base of a strong, long-lasting relationship is that you’re there to give––not take.
Pro-tip: Build trust by making a third-party recommendation first.
Let’s face it––immediately recommending your own company’s products, services, or content to a new connection can feel overly salesy. It can cause your new relationship to quickly die out.
If you’re worried about the relationship feeling purely transactional, recommend another company’s product, services, or content first.
For example, let’s say you connect with a marketing manager through a LinkedIn group about SEO best practices. They’re struggling to understand how to improve their website backlinks.
If you work for an agency or company providing software that can help with this, you might be tempted to immediately offer your services. However, this can come across as spammy if the individual isn’t looking to purchase something at the moment.
Instead, you can refer them to an ebook, blog post, or certification course from an industry expert that you think is helpful. This helps your new connection and you build trust.
8. Focus on quality––not quantity.
Every person you connect with won’t become a long-lasting relationship––and that’s expected.
Some people just aren’t the right audience, they’re not interested in new relationships, or you’re unable to find that common ground that leads to long-term connections.
Losing a few low-quality connections is okay. You don’t want to waste your time checking in or catching up with someone who isn’t interested in talking with you. What’s more important here is the quality of your connections, not the quantity.
If a connection stops responding to you or doesn’t seem open to getting to know you more, let them go.
Pro-tip: Use your CRM to track the quality of your relationships.
When you’re busy, it’s not always easy to tell which relationships are worth investing in and which aren’t. However, Copper can tell you a lot about the quality of your relationships.
Use your CRM to keep track of when you’ve connected with an individual and what the outcomes were. Gauge how you think that person responded to your outreach and whether it seemed welcome or not.
Here are two examples, one of a high-quality connection and one of a low-quality connection.
First, the high-quality:
Looking at the profile, you can see that there are a variety of logged events, including phone-calls, to-dos, and meetings. This profile shows that both parties have been active and LeBron James (in this case, the prospect) on the other end is engaged.
At this point, you know if you reached out to LeBron, he would pick up––or at least give you a call back. (If only this were a real example…)
Now, let’s look at a less-than-enthusiastic profile.
Taking a look at Bob Vance’s profile, we can quickly see that the number of interactions are about the same and the number of inactive days are the same as our all-star prospect, LeBron.
However, the devil is in the details. When you start to look through the logged events and notes, you see that the interactions are largely one-sided and no progress is really being made––things you wouldn’t pick up on if you only looked at that top-line info.
From looking at this low-quality profile, it’s clear that Bob probably isn’t interested.
Be sure to make note of when they reached out to you. Long-lasting, high-quality relationships go both ways. If you’re the only one connecting, that might be a sign that they aren’t interested in continuing the relationship.
Know when to cut the cord with connections not worth your time, and focus on those worth investing in.
9. Keep up with people.
A once strong relationship starting to drift away isn’t necessarily a sign that they’re no longer interested in staying in touch. People get busy with their jobs, families, and hobbies and might forget to return your calls or reply to your emails.
But even so, finding time to reach out and connect can keep the relationship going.
Carving time out of your schedule to keep up with people you want to stay close with can prevent months from going by without speaking. Just a simple outreach to check in can keep the relationship alive.
Pro-tip: Automate your outreach.
Here’s another place where a great CRM will come in handy.
Because your CRM tracks the time since your last interaction, you can keep track of relationships that might be going cold.
It also allows you to automate your outreach to keep relationships active––especially if trying to maintain numerous connections at once.
Going back to the templates we mentioned earlier, you can create a simple outreach template to revive conversations that might have disappeared.
Here’s an example.
It’s short, to-the-point, and low-pressure, but it also provides some next steps for getting in touch.
You can also use a follow-up template to follow up if you don’t hear back. While automated follow ups can be useful if a message gets lost in your inbox or you happen to send your email at a particularly busy time, you also need to be careful to not go overboard.
Limit it to just one or two follow ups at once. If you don’t hear anything, you can always try to check in again in a few weeks.
10. Be reliable.
Long-term relationships are built and maintained by being consistent, no matter the situation or who you’re working with. Potential clients, business partnerships, or new acquaintances you just met all deserve the same level of respect and reliability.
Think about a time someone––a salesperson you’ve been talking with or a partner you planned to grab coffee with––changed their mind or promise last minute. Whether they went back on a deal or canceled plans last minute, it leaves a bad taste in your mouth.
Being unreliable just one time can sour an entire relationship.
Sure, things come up. Deals change or last-minute meetings get thrown onto your calendar, and for the most part, your business relationships might understand.
But if it seems like you never had any intentions of honoring those obligations, you come across as untrustworthy.
When you’re building business relationships, it’s crucial you stick to your word as much as possible.
Pro-tip: Use your CRM to track obligations.
Aside from outright lies, unreliability often happens when you’re unorganized.
You forgot to add that lunch meeting to your calendar, so someone added you to an important meeting thinking you were free.
You forgot you offered to give a new client a discount, so you seem untrustworthy when sending a bill without the discount applied.
While you might be able to go back and explain what happened to the burned party, the damage is done. You now need to work even harder to build that trust back.
Your CRM can help prevent those miscommunications and misunderstandings from happening in the first place.
The tasks feature within Copper can help you keep track of what promise you’ve made. If you’ve offered a free trial, a new user discount, or even just to send a piece of content to someone, put it as a task in Copper.
Make the most of the task feature––give the task a due date, set a reminder, and link it to the client. This additional functionality ensures the task won’t slip through the cracks.
When you add a due date for your task, you can then integrate it into your calendar.
Reminders will show up alongside your meetings, phone calls, and other appointments, so you can work completing the task into your day––ensuring you never miss an important touchpoint.
Ready to start building business relationships that last?
Building business relationships––just like building relationships outside work––takes effort. You can’t expect someone you meet at a conference to immediately make a purchase, or someone you met in a LinkedIn group to immediately refer you new business.
But when you put in the time and energy to get to know that person, provide them with solutions to problems they’re experiencing, and consistently improve trust, you can build solid connections that helps your business succeed.